"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Letting Go of Leaving

In a conversation with my brother Mark a while ago, we were comparing those things we hold in front of ourselves as the ultimate reward. The big carrot if-onlys of our lives. The Once I Get There Everything Will Be Fine things. The final, irrefutable proofs that we've succeeded as human beings. Arrived. Healed. Finally enough.

Our oldest brother, the one in age between Mark and me, is building a boat. A Big Boat.  For years he has believed that when this boat is finished and he's living on it, all will be well. He'll have peace finally and control over his life and the accomplishment of his life's dream. He's the only one in the family who isn't concerned about how he's going to handle the disappointment when he discovers that he followed himself onto the boat.

Our youngest brother has moved a certain Camaro from house to house to house for years. It doesn't run and he can never quite afford to fix it, but he keeps saving and hoping and hauling the body and its parts with him wherever he goes. This car is a relic from a younger, freer, wilder time. A tie to a happier past that promises happiness in some uncalendared future.

When I asked Mark what his Once-I-Get-There thing was, he hesitated only a moment before declaring his career had been. He achieved the top of his career, then lost it, and so has had the rare opportunity to learn that Getting There doesn't get you what you think it will.

Even before Mark asked, I knew what my answer would be. My weight. Once I'm Thin Enough Everything Will Be Fine. Thin will bring happiness, success, peace. Never mind that I have been thin(ner) and it didn't change much besides the size of my clothes. I still saw the same person I see in the mirror when I'm not thin(ner). And if anything, the inside darkness grew as the weight fell away instead of diminishing.

This week I've realized that my Once-I-Get-There-Thing holds much less power over me than the Possibility of Leaving. Because from the age of eleven when life became inescapable hell I've believed that in order to be happy, at peace, and free, I had to leave. I didn't realize until this winter that it was in my blood, my lineage  - the leaving thing. 

I come from a long line of leavers. Pack up your bags and walk out the door leavers. Kill yourself leavers. Drink yourself to death leavers. Escape into madness leavers.

I have to leave to be happy. A simple message that plays subliminally throughout my being like an advertisement convincing me that a certain product will change my life forever.

When I left the cult, which I actually needed to do to survive, I was determined never to leave anything again. I was not going to be a perpetual quitter. I was going to prove to God that I was a serious, stable, committed adult.

And so I anchored myself. In a marriage to a man who loved me and who wanted nothing more than to be a quiet family together. In a career that shouted respectability and security. In a persona that tried hard to be proper and impeccably clean. With beautiful Golden Retrievers and multitudes of cats and hobbies my mother would have approved of.

But there has always been a longing to be somewhere else. I live with one foot out the door, ready to carry me to safety when the pain gets too bad. My favorite escape is the possibility of getting in my car and driving to freedom - away from the loneliness and pain and grief that greet me each morning like old friends. New Mexico, Maine, Canada. Fresh start. No baggage. Adrenaline high.

I know better. I've known better for a very long time. What I didn't know until yesterday was how deeply that belief has impacted my life.

I have to leave to be happy. It's a lie. But oh, what a pretty lie.

What I know also is that by hanging on to the possibility of leaving, I've managed to avoid feeling most of the pain that that eleven year old girl stuffed away so that she could survive her inescapable hell. I've managed to avoid feeling the pain and disappointments of a marriage struggling to keep up with twenty years of change. I've stayed safe (mostly) from the frustration and powerlessness of working in a rigidly sick system that has no room for creativity or spiritual growth.

Leaving, the hope of leaving and the illusion of leaving - none of them have worked. They are not going to work. I am finally willing to say goodbye to them. To thank them for keeping me safe and alive. But to release them so that I can embrace here, now, myself.

I choose to stay.


Carrie Wilson Link said...

It's 3:10 AM. This was worth getting up for.


Love, love and more love!

Nancy said...


So many powerful messages here and many hit right where they need to. How many of us, leavers or stay-put-ers "look for happiness in some uncalendared future," while casting aside that what we have is NOW and only now for sure.

Marian said...

Hi---I just realized you have a blog! I sat with Prema yesterday and she gave me a tour of 'blog-land'. I have enjoyed your comments on my blog but didn't know I could get to yours from there! (call this 'confessions of a technophobe'!)
Your posts are potent. This last one reflected what would be a timely conversation with at least one of my two brothers. (not to mention myself...) At 53-nearly 54- I find myself seeing a whole other layer of my life and my choices. And there is less in the way of me being who I have always "wanted to be". Sometimes the thing stopping me is an unasked question. Thanks for asking it!
and hey...thanks for "...the smudge and rust of robins shopping for lunch in the dirt". I may have slightly misquoted-but I can't get back to the page to check without losing this comment. I loved the image so! and the feel of the sentence in my mouth when I said it out loud.
Thanks for writing!

La La said...

I love this. For me it's many things. Weight. Marriage. Having kids. Owning a home. None of which have happened, and I'm 42, so I'm losing hope. So sad.

I love the last line, "I choose to stay."

Mama 'N Me said...

This is SO you, Deb. Spot on, smart. A dart to the heart of we who imagine everything will be better when....

To the little girl you were, to the fabulous woman you are, I say: so glad to hear you're choosing to stay. So glad you're choosing.


FrecklesandDeb said...

"He's the only one in the family who isn't concerned about how he's going to handle the disappointment when he discovers that he followed himself onto the boat."

That is so true of us all and one of the hardest lessons we have to learn. We can leave, we can change our surroundings, we can improve our socio-economic status -- but we are still who we bring to that new place.

I have to remember that I follow myself wherever I go -- I can't escape me -- so I'd better make peace with it and learn to be happy with who I am!

Thanks for reminding me!

Anonymous said...

Letting go of leaving, letting go of if only, letting go of when I get to this place in my life....they all hit directly at my heart. As usual, your writing, nails it, perfectly. Such an important message, there is only this, "Forget regret, or life is yours to miss, no other road, no other way, no day but today." (I just saw RENT in NYC and it touched me deeply)


M said...

I am continuously amazed at how your writing and the introspection that you do as you put your words and your heart to ink have allowed you to grow and heal. You would not have the understanding that you do now without the exercise of writing that you do. I, for one, have benefited and I thank you for your courage to write and share. I'm glad you realize that we can't escape our life...we just have to learn to live it.


La La said...

Ever read "Two or Three Things I know for Sure" by Dorothy Allison. It's only 94 pages, but it is poignant and real and honest. I read it today while in the tub! Yes, I stayed in there a long time!

Anyway, she mentions leaving in the first few pages. Made me think of your family of leavers.

It's worth the read.

Sending love your way.

Jess said...

Great post, very interesting stuff to think about.

Thank you. :)

kario said...

You, my dear, are a wise woman. I am so pleased that you are doing this work and sharing it with all of us. I can only imagine how difficult it is to be here, doing this right now, but you are growing by leaps and bounds.

Just know that wherever you are, I'm there with you - staying or going. Loving you. Just love.

Terry Whitaker said...

No day but today...no moment but this one. So simple, so difficult. So Powerful.